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among my favorite things

Among my favorite things are books and movies. I hold these two titles in especially high esteem.

The book “Minutes of the Last Meeting” by Gene Fowler is a first hand account of the weekly gathering of Hollywood artists such as W.C. Fields, John Barrymore and others at the home of painter John Decker in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. The now obscure bohemian poet Sadikichi Hartmann is really the focal point of the book. This sometimes rude but always urbane and witty group provide an entertaining look into that world and time. Fowler was one of the better writers of his era and this book about his friends and cohorts presents an honest portrait which is not blind to their faults. The book was published in 1954.

“The Duellists” is an early (1977) Ridley Scott film based on a Joseph Conrad short story. Set in the Napoleonic period the photographic beauty of the film rivals “Barry Lyndon” in my opinion. It is a great period film and there are great performances from what would seem an unlikely cast such as Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Robert Stephens and even a cameo by one of my favorite actors Albert Finney. The story is an amazingly poignant morality lesson and it is so well told that I never grow tired of it.


My Hobby

My hobby is and has been for some time to study the life and works of various concert pianists. Arthur Rubinstein is a favorite and his autobiography is wonderful. I also am interested in two pianists of the 20th century who passed away before their time. That is Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950) and William Kapell (1922-1953).

As of late I have been looking into the music and life of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995).
Michelangeli was a taciturn sort who disliked giving concerts. He was also a perfectionist who was rarely known to play a wrong note. Very interesting fellow. There are several Michelangeli performances to be seen on You Tube.

There are of course many more like Ignaz Friedman, Leopold Godowsky, Josef Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Artur Schnabel, Samson Francois and others.

It always helps if I can read about the lives of these interpreters as well as listen to their archival recordings. In this way two books have been of great help. Those books are “Speaking of Pianists” by Abram Chasins and “The Great Pianists” by Harold C. Schoenberg.

Rembrandt von Rijn (1603-1669)

Rembrandt von Rijn painted about 50 paintings of himself as well as 32 etchings and 7 drawings he created on the same subject. In this age of the “selfie” many may be inclined to think that this predilection is self-indulgent but I don’t think this is the case with Rembrandt.

First of all, in the 17th Century such artwork was not even classified as a “self portrait.”
Often painters did paintings of themselves because it was easier than getting a model to sit for them.

In Rembrandt’s case the “self portraits” are so objective that it is very obvious that he was not intending to create a flattering representation. These portraits which create a sort of visual diary span four decades and more than anything show his evolution as a painter and artist. His last “selfies” not only depict the artist as he aged but show just how much his art had changed. His painting became more free and the slick realism of his early work transformed into a very modern and indeed almost futuristic style that in many ways can compare to the Impressionistic work to come two centuries later. For me, these works give new meaning to the word “introspection.”

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)

In my pursuits as an autodidact I find that one discovery leads to another and that this rather circuitous path never seems to end. So the more I search the more I “discover.”

For instance, my intense interest in the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) led to my stumbling upon Carel Fabritius. Fabritius came slightly before Vermeer and both were painters from Delft. In fact, many think Vermeer was strongly influenced by Fabritius even though Fabritius left few paintings.

The cover of my limited edition CD called “Rara Avis” has a painting by Carel Fabritius called “The Goldfinch.” This painting again appears on the inside of the “Quintessence” package, It is considered to be one of his handful of masterpieces and this painting of quiet perfection fits the title “Rara Avis” perfectly.

Fabritius was only 32 years old when he was killed in the tragic munitions explosion in Delft on October 12, 1654. The only biography of Vermeer I know of begins with the Delft explosion and some biographical background on Delft and Carel Fabritius.

Somehow all of this information and the works of various artists that catch my interest influence me. As always, I am drawn to those artists who endeavor to express what Maurice Ravel called “life’s mysterious thrill.”